10. A Gaping Chasm
Fingon & Maedhros, Chapter 10
For disclaimers: see previous chapters.
This chapter is dedicated to Tyellas, in gratitude - may you continue to write inspirational stories and essays!
Morgoth was defeated, his Iron Crown was beaten into a collar for his neck, and the two remaining Silmarils were recaptured.
Beleriand, once green and fair, was full of fire and smoke, a ruin of rifts and raging waters. The Eldar who had survived the War of Wrath were summoned to depart from the Hither Shores. And Eönwë, the herald of Manwë, claimed the Silmarils on behalf of the Powers.
'They are ours,' Maedhros and Maglor agreed, and they sent Eönwë a message, telling him to yield up Feänor's jewels, their inheritance and rightful property.
The answer made short shrift of their claim. They were killers, slayers of their own kin, and as such they had forfeited every right to their father's work. They were invited to lay their claim before the Valar and bide their judgment.
Never, Maedhros told himself, weary and filled with loathing, though not very surprised. So even Eönwë the Maia was incapable of letting the jewels go. They were all alike; was Morgoth not of the same ilk? Perhaps their father had seen it clearly after all, with the lucidity of the fey and fated.
His brother insisted on seeing it differently. He spoke of submitting, of being forgiven and finding peace. Of course, he was delusional again. Their best hope lay in swift execution. Even in the unlikely case that they would find forgiveness, did Maglor truly believe that they would ever be able to forget? That the Valar could wipe out their oath as if it had never existed, or prevent it from tormenting them until the End of Arda? Was not an oath, sworn in the name of the One, more powerful than any Power?
'How shall our voice reach to Ilúvatar beyond the Circles of the World?' Maedhros asked. 'And by Ilúvatar we swore in our madness, and called the Everlasting Darkness upon us, if we kept not our word. Who shall release us?
'If none can release us,' Maglor said, his golden voice tarnished with sorrow, 'then indeed the Everlasting Darkness shall be our lot, whether we keep our oath or break it; but less evil shall we do in the breaking.'(1)
'Folly. If we break our Oath, darkness is certain,' Maedhros said. 'While if we keep and redeem it, there will be no need for release.'
'Why do I think,' his brother asked, 'that it is you, who refuses to release me?'
'Defy me, then!' Maedhros held his brother's gaze, knowing that Maglor was unable to avert his eyes. 'Defy me, if you think it is the right thing to do.'
'You remain my elder brother, and I am bound to bend to you,' Maglor sighed. 'If I defy you, will I not act wrongly by choosing right? And if I obey you, will I not act rightly by choosing wrong?'
You do not want to defy me at all, little brother, Maedhros thought. Or you would not be arguing. You would be gone. 'If every doom you can deem is both right and wrong, choice is an illusion,' he replied harshly.
His brother averted his face in defeat.
Why did I not help him? Maedhros wondered. He ought to act alone, leave Maglor to his delusions, allow him to believe what he wished to believe. But he knew that he could not. Alone: that was Thangorodrim, where a lonely body hung suspended from a rock face, tormented even beyond the endurance of the Firstborn, yet having no choice but to endure the chain that bound him body and soul until someone came to condemn him to life.
No choice but to endure. His flesh fettered to the stone with cruel steel. His soul shackled to his flesh with the crueler bonds of Morgoth's sorcery, preventing it to flee. His life bound to an oath that would not die, the cruelest captivity of all.
He had become the Oath. A blasphemous swear of flesh, suspended from a rock face as a punishment for murder, cowardly weakness and deceit. Why had Fingon not slain the oath that was Maedhros, son of Fëanor? Because there was no release for him. He had not been allowed to flee, for he was fated to survive.
But the face of Thangorodrim would stare at him ever after - would continue to do so till the breaking of Arda Marred, though the War of Wrath had erased the rock itself from the face of the earth. The oath made flesh had never been rescued, Morgoth's chain had never been severed by power of steel or song, and after Thangorodrim it had fettered Fingon as well. He loved me as a payment for his cruel salvation, Maedhros thought. The aches of desire and the pangs of love had merely alleviated his woes - torment mitigated by pain. Now he knew why Fingon's love had to hurt so much: to protect him from worse.
His brother's love for him was also great enough to hurt. And therefore, Maglor had to come along.
'Follow me,' Maedhros said.
And so, by this lack of choice, the oath was redeemed at last with blood and suffering, as was appropriate, though neither right nor proper. Redeemed, and made vain, for sullied flesh could not touch the jewels hallowed by Varda; it was scorched by their purity, burning with undying heat.
Staggering agony drove Maedhros on for an indefinite time till he sank to his knees in some uncharted place. Ahead of him was a gaping chasm filled with fire that could not possibly hurt more than the blaze in his hand. He remembered the Silmarils as they had been, rejoicing in light, receiving it and giving it back in hues more marvelous than before. But all they gave back now was the blood-red glare of the flame inextinguishable that seared his hand.
His remaining hand. Already, it was charred; he would never be able to use it again. Both his hands were gone now, one lost to an edge of cold steel, the other to claws of searing light. The oath was made void indeed, for he had been the oath, and it had no hands left to deal death and none to hold on to an existence that was no longer life.
Maglor, he thought, but his brother had disappeared into the opposite direction, pulling the tatters of his life about him to shield himself from the coming winter of despair. Poor Maglor, son of Fëanor. May his doom be on your head, father, Maedhros dared to think for the first and last time in his life. Bereft of both hands he rose awkwardly, took one step and threw himself into the furnace roaring at his feet.
Maedhros, made and unmade by fire.
The mind did have eyes, and Fingon's sight increased as his stay in Mandos wore on. He could see the Weaver's webs now, telling the Tale of Arda, and as he grew better accustomed to death, the tapestries seemed to come more alive. Each thread had a hue of its own and stood out against all others; all threads mattered and none could be missed, or the beauty of the larger pattern would be diminished.
As he observed and admired the tapestries, moving through time while space passed by, his fëa brushed against many others among the houseless. Together with kin and friends and old foes he saw deeds and omissions caught in the warp and weft of a common history, and the tale grew in the telling.
At some point, he found himself in the presence of the Judge again.
'Have you won your freedom now?' Námo asked him
Fingon's lack of surprise was a measure of his understanding. He could see now that if Mandos still confined him, it was not punishment that kept him here. 'I have spoken with all whose forgiveness I should seek, have I not, Aire?' he replied. 'Yet I know that I am not yet free.'
'What taint is it that clings to your fëa? What is it that still binds you?'
Fingon hesitated. 'The fetters of a love that should never have been,' he replied at last, feeling the weight of his own words drag him down like the heaviest of chains. The pain it caused bit deeper than any hurt of the body that he could still remember.
'Why should it not have been?' the Judge asked impassively.
'It was barren. Our seed went to waste, for were we not under the Curse?'
A pause. 'Indeed you were. Tell me, how many of the scions of Finwë who left Aman bore fruit in Middle-earth?'
Preparing to count them, Fingon soon realised there was very little to count. 'Only my sister,' he said. 'She bore a son in the sunless woods of Nan Elmoth, or so I heard.'
'A rotten fruit. Your sister-son Maeglin betrayed Gondolin to Morgoth,' said the Vala, and the reverberations of his soundless words sent cold tremors through Fingon's naked fëa. 'Finwë sired five children and was granted fifteen grandchildren. The number of his great-grandchildren is but four (2). A tree nearly stripped bare, whipped by bitter winds of the North. How could any love of yours have been other than barren? How could it have been more unsullied than you were?'
There seemed to be no answer, yet with great effort Fingon offered the only certainty he possessed up to the scrutiny of his judge: 'Yet it was...' and corrected himself: 'Yet it is.'
A grey mist of silence enveloped him; was he going blind once more, losing every glimmer of insight he had gleaned?
'So this is what still binds you?'
Blinds you? he thought. 'What else could it be? Are there any more whose forgiveness I must beg?' Fingon asked, uncertain. Perhaps he had overlooked some.
'Who are they?'
'The answer is not beyond your ability to find.'
Was it? Then why did it elude him? Perhaps he would find it in Vaire's webs. And so, Fingon went to look at them once more. But what he found was not the answer he sought. He found a new tapestry.
It showed him Maedhros, casting himself into a gaping chasm filled with fire.
Flames consumed him.
The red-hot agony turned to blackness when his fëa wrenched itself from its hröa. Or perhaps not blackness. Nothingness. His senses were quenched and crushed. He was aware of existing, no more. What was left of him was nowhere, except in the past. It was called Maedhros Maitimo Russandol Nelyafinwë: names for hurtful and hideous memories. Nothing lay ahead, or so it seemed, until the summons came.
Why should he heed the call? Why flee from doom to doom? The darkness would not grow any less, nor end any sooner: forever lasted forever.
But the pull was strong. He wondered why.
He wondered why he cared.
'Did you summon him, Aire?' asked Fingon anxiously.
A thoughtless question, but Námo answered it all the same. 'I did.'
'Is he coming?'
'I cannot tell you.'
'Where is he??' If Fingon had still possessed a voice, he would have screamed.
'He must come! Make him obey!'
'You know that this is not within my power. He is free to refuse,' the Judge spoke, neither moved to wrath nor to pity.
'Free? When has Maedhros ever been truly free, bound by the Oath as he was? Could he have refused to swear it? How can a son rebel against his father?'
Fingolfin had wanted his son to give up his lover. His son had taken the liberty to walk a path of his own. The Valar, who had instructed and helped the Eldar like parents, had wished for the Noldor to remain in the Blessed Realm. They had taken the liberty to walk paths of their own. Once more, Fingon saw himself draw a sword to fight for freedom and the right to reject. And misguided as the deed had been, the right was his beyond the shadow of a doubt. As Maedhros was free to refuse the summons.
Why should he come? What could be left of their love, after everything he had done? And could he who had been Fingon still love someone who had murdered again and again, until all that was left for him to do was to murder himself? What could he say to him, if their fëar met in these Halls? What could he possibly say that would be not be a reproach?
You are free to refuse, Maitimo, if that is your true desire, his thought cried out. But I beg you - heed the summons!
Around him, the grey mist grew darker, and he was blown away like a dried leaf. 'He is coming.' The words of the Vala seemed to reach him from afar, as if Fingon was receding from him at great speed.
He moved through twilight, or perhaps it was the twilight that moved. Everywhere, shadows drifted and shifted as he receded ever further from the centre of Mandos. The whispers of other fëar insinuated themselves into his awareness, a confused and confusing chorus. But as he passed them by, individual voices made themselves heard.
He heard those who had foregone rehousing, their voices laden with regret...
I chose the lower road leading downward, not content with the one fruit my tree bore, and much evil followed. I deprive myself of life to atone for a love too short of perfection -
I followed my husband in his rebellion because I loved him above the Valar and my own kin.
Now this love keeps me bound to him while he remains in these Houses -
I was foolhardy enough in battle, but my love was thin and wise. Now my beloved has passed beyond the circles of the world, and without her I do not have the heart to live (3) -
... the mutterings of those Mandos held in waiting, heavy with resentment or pride...
Should I have loved him who took me against my will - or have died instead? Did I not have the right to take and possess my son, I who bore him? Was it my fault that he became a traitor?
Should I have let others deprive me of my father's love? Let others deprive me of the work of my hands? Shared love and light with those who shunned me and my fire? -
Should we have loved others above our father, the works of strangers above his, the oath of a cousin above our own, the lives of others above our souls? -
... to the grumbling of twisted voices, increasingly harsh and ugly...
... who is he... one of them that got away... I was less lucky...
They were everywhere around him. Who are these people? Fingon thought. Why am I here? Where is this?
... carried off to torture... body racked and mind warped ... distorted mirror... spawned a foul brood to be detested by such as he... born to slave and obey... to fight and kill... how did this one loathe us! ... cut us down, cut us up to devour us... sharp teeth tearing at us... ah, but he also killed his own kind ... just like we did, at times... his fair flesh growing foul, too... rotting beside ours... indistinguishable from ours... come here to dwell among us... where he belongs... remember the tang of blood, brother... the salt of the marred earth... the rich taste of death...?
The truth, when he perceived it at last, hit him hard.
These were orcs. His own kindred, changed beyond recognition by Morgoth, corrupted in the deep pits of Utumno when the Quendi were newly awake. Starlight dying in the bowels of the earth, a mockery of Eru's Children, feeding on lies, believing of the free people what they knew of themselves.
'You may have eaten us, but we never ate you!' he objected with vehemence, briefly wondering if his own corpse had been gnawed by orc teeth. But that image held less horror than the reverse.
... he talks to us... thinks we do not know how they hated us... believes he is above us...
The voice of one of the orcs detached itself from the others. This one was my brother's grandson.(4)
Malicious chuckles, coming from all sides: Shame on you for having such kin... Free to choose, and exchanged freedom for a curse... Sunk low, they have. ... Low indeed!
'Yes,' Fingon said, though he was not being addressed. 'I am ashamed. And sorry.' It poured out of him. 'If I did not do right by any among you, I am deeply sorry.'
Stunned silence; they were speechless, as well they might. He could hardly believe his own words. Had he offered apologies to a band of orc souls?
Then again, why not? He was kin to one of them.
He could have been one of them.
Another voice spoke. Or not a voice, for it was but a thought entering his mind, a thought not his own, yet one he would recognise among many. 'You did not do right by me.'
In that instant, Fingon knew it was Maedhros whom he had come to seek here - for he had found him.
But Maedhros had hurt him with those words, and the first question that crossed his mind was: Are you an Orc, then, that you felt the need to reply? Yet he did not say it, because he knew what lay behind it.
He wanted to weep. 'Oh Maedhros,' he said. 'I was unable to kill you on Thangorodrim, do you not understand? If a Vala answers your prayer, you accept the answer it as it comes. If Manwë's eagle stays your arrow, how can you kill?' The coming of Thorondor had seemed a message: Maedhros is not to die here. We cannot let you slay him, son of Fingolfin. You are not righteous enough to kill by mercy. 'No, I could not do right by you,' he went on. 'Forgive me for failing you, my love.'
'Why should I forgive you? I have fallen lower than the orcs. You could have prevented it. You should have. And do not call me your love. You did so before, on numerous occasions, but you only felt guilty. And sorry. You never truly loved me. I hate you.'
The words were bad enough. What was worse, was that they were spoken without any emotion. Never before had Fingon felt so miserable, not when he thought Maedhros had betrayed him at Losgar, not on the Ice, not when he saw him suffer on Thangorodrim, and not during that last battle, when all their hopes were crushed.
The urge to flee this place, this state of existence, was almost overwhelming. This was the heart of darkness, where the love that moved Eä curdled and froze to a halt. Would not all his efforts to make it stir be wasted? Maedhros had heeded the summons, and he, Fingon, had found him, but was this the Maedhros he had loved? Had he not seen it all in Vaire's tapestries: death in Doriath, slaughter at the Mouths of Sirion, yet more killings to rob the Silmarils from the herald of the Valar? This fëa spoke true: lower than the orcs.
No, he thought. I was defeated in life, I will not suffer defeat in death. With an effort he spoke. 'Yes. If you need something to hate, then hate me rather than yourself. I will not cease to love you.'
'There is nothing left for you to love, fool that you are.'
Was there a hint of disdain in those words? A first stirring of feeling, painful as the awakening of a deadened limb? 'Since when does love take its lead from reason?' Maedhros' own words, spoken when Turgon had discovered their secret and questioned Fingon's sanity(5). And without waiting for Maedhros' lack of response. Fingon went on: 'I see everything that is left to love. I see you.'
Maedhros' fëa recoiled. 'I see nothing. All is black here. Did I not doom myself to the everlasting darkness when I swore that accursed Oath, not once, but twice? So everlasting darkness is where I am.'
'This is not the everlasting darkness,' Fingon replied patiently. 'These are the Halls of Mandos, a home for the houseless. This is a refuge and a resting place, and there is room for remorse and recovery. The darkness is in your eyes, and whether it will be everlasting depends on you. My eyes can see the light, even here.'
And they could, a tiny speck, an increasing glow, a light, not of matter but of the spirit, yet bright like a Silmaril. It shone on the fëa of Maedhros, and it was beautiful. It shone on the fëar of the orcs, and they were beautiful, too, their ugliness washed away by the silver tears of a shimmering lady larger than life, whose arms encompassed them all. And Fingon marveled: was he granted a brief vision of Arda Healing, Arda being remade?
'Can you not see it, Maitimo?' he asked, pleadingly.
'My light is gone, buried in the depths of the earth.'
'From whence it will be recovered.'
'So the Oath can wake again?'
'The Oath was made void. It is dead.'
A long pause. 'You are wrong,' Maedhros replied at last, soul writhing in agony. 'You know that I swore by Ilúvatar. An oath so sworn may not be broken, and it shall pursue oathkeeper and oathbreaker until the world's end. I am dead - but I am not unmade. To find peace I must cease to be. Only then the last echo of the Oath will fade.'
'You cannot cease to exist by will,' Fingon said, shaken by Maedhros' conviction.
'Then I will remain here until the end. But you must leave me alone.'
Fingon wanted to cry. He wanted to shout. He wanted to grab and shake Maedhros, but in this place he had no eyes, no voice, no hands, and even if he had hands, how could they hold an insubstantial fëa wishing to elude him? And though he was prepared to go on pleading and being rejected again and again, he was not sure whether his hope would prevail against the full strength of Maedhros' despair. How could he hold on to his vision?
He would make one more attempt. A gamble, a leap into the unknown. 'I shall do your bidding and leave you alone, if you can prove to me that it is true what you said: that only by being unmade you you can escape the Oath.'
'And how am I to prove such a thing before it is done, pray?'
'Let us ask Námo Mandos, the Judge,' Fingon said. 'He knows all things that shall be, save only those that lie still in the freedom of Ilúvatar.' If I go to him, will you follow my love? I beg you.'
(To be concluded in the Epilogue)
1)texts in italics are quoted/adapted from the chapters 24 and 7 of The Silmarillion
2) In the Shibboleth of Fëanor (HoMe 12), Finwë had two daughters, Findis and Lalwen.
Maeglin is the only great-grandchild of Finwë born in Middle-earth during the First Age. Celebrimbor, Idril and Orodreth (son of Angrod) were born in Aman. Celebrian was born in the Second Age. Fingon's wife and children were struck out in the Shibboleth of Fëanor, while Gil-galad was made the son of Orodreth. I think this change wasn't just made to transfer the High Kingship of the Noldor to the House of Finarfin: it also served to stress the fruitlessness of much that was undertaken by Finwë's sons and grandchildren in Middle-earth.
3) In one footnote (yes) in HoMe 10, refusal to be embodied again is called a fault, showing a weakness and a lack of courage (p. 222). I leave it to the readers to guess the identity of the souls who are speaking here.
4) An idea borrowed from Ithilwen's story Nightfall, nr. 4 in her Maedhros series. Go and read it.
5) See Ch. 2 of this story.
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